World 100m champion Fred Kerley’s long-awaited showdown with Olympic gold medallist Marcell Jacobs is one of many intriguing sub-plots to the World Athletics Championships that start in Budapest on Saturday.
Just one year out from the Paris Olympics, the August 19-27 worlds in the Hungarian capital have been hit by a handful of big-name withdrawals.
Among those not defending their titles are the American pair of Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone (400m hurdles) and Michael Norman (400m) and Belgium’s two-time Olympic heptathlon champion Nafissatou Thiam.
There is no such drama in the 100m, however, desperately seeking a charismatic champion to take up the reins from Usain Bolt, who retired in 2017 with a record 11 world golds to his name.
Jacobs was a surprise podium topper in Tokyo, streaking to the win in an European record of 9.80 seconds, with Kerley taking silver.
Since that heady victory, the Italian has been beset by injuries, missing last year’s Covid-delayed world champs in Eugene when Kerley led a US medal cleansweep in track and field’s blue riband event.
Jacobs has been a late withdrawal from races this season and his sole outing outdoors in June saw him finish seventh, in a disappointing 10.21sec.
Other contenders for the 100m crown include Kerley’s teammate Noah Lyles, who will also be seeking a third world 200m title.
Anguilla-born Briton Zharnel Hughes has the world’s fastest time of the season, while Kenyan Ferdinand Omanyala and Botswanan Letsile Tebogo will be bidding to become the event’s first-ever African champion.
“It’s a very open challenge and I’m looking forward to it,” said Jacobs.
“I really had to work hard to remain focused on these world championships as it’s the only medal I’m still missing in my collection.”
Kipyegon v Hassan
The women’s 100m also sees a heavyweight clash between the Jamaican duo of Shericka Jackson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and in-form American Sha’Carri Richardson.
Fraser-Pryce is seeking an unprecedented sixth 100m title, but Richardson, who missed the Tokyo Olympics for a doping violation, is this season’s red-hot performer.
Other stand-out events include the men’s 200m, in which Lyles is predicting he will better Bolt’s world record of 19.19sec set back in Berlin in 2009.
In the absence of McLaughlin-Levrone and Norman, all eyes will be on outstanding Dutch hurdler Femke Bol and South African Wayde van Niekerk, the former world and Olympic champion who this season posted his fastest one-lap time in six years after a long comeback from injury.
Norway’s Karsten Warholm insists he still has the hunger to push for faster times as he hunts a third world gold in the 400m hurdles.
“I want more. There’s some greed in it, I guess,” he said, having set a world record of 45.94sec when winning Olympic gold in Tokyo.
And after a stunning season in which she has set three world records, Faith Kipyegon will be flying the flag for Kenya in both the 1500 and 5,000m, while Warholm’s teammate Jakob Ingebrigtsen will take some beating in the same two events on the men’s side.
Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, who completed an unprecedented triple at the Tokyo Olympics by winning gold medals in both the 5,000m and 10,000m and a bronze in the 1500m, is down to race all three once again, setting up a mouth-watering clash with Kipyegon.
When one speaks of dominance, never is it more prominent than in the men’s pole vault. US-born Swede Mondo Duplantis is completely dominant in the event, often joining the competition when half the field have already bailed out.
He had a slight blip in Monaco last month, but it would be a brave person to bet against the 23-year-old world record holder from adding a second world title to his laurels.
Other field events to watch include Ryan Crouser in the men’s shot put, an event selected by none other than World Athletics president Sebastian Coe as the sport’s current stand-out discipline, and all-conquering Venezuelan Yulimar Rojas in the women’s triple jump.
Rojas, who is unbeaten in two years, has the chance to go for a record-extending fourth victory.
A record number of more than 2,187 athletes from 202 countries will take part in Budapest, but none features from traditional powerhouse Russia, or Belarus.
Although World Athletics has lifted its seven-year ban on Russia over “egregious institutional doping violations”, the country and Moscow supporter Belarus are still excluded from competition for the foreseeable future due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.